Interview & photos by Shannon Shumaker
The day before Too Close to Touch’s show at The Marquis Theatre in Denver (and my scheduled interview with the band, which I was admittedly very excited for) I somehow found myself sitting inside of Beau Jo’s Pizza in downtown Denver, camera in hand, watching bassist Travis Moore and drummer Kenny Downey attempt to devour a fourteen pound pizza in less than an hour. The band was going head to head with two representatives from the other artists on the tour package (I The Mighty and Hands Like Houses) and though nobody actually finished their entire pizza, the camaraderie and friendship in that restaurant was palpable. Fast forward to a day later, and I’m sitting with Too Close to Touch inside the venue before their show, and as the band is still joking about and celebrating their “win” from the night before, that same positive energy is still present.
Nerve Endings, Too Close to Touch’s debut full-length on Epitaph Records, however, is a very emotionally heavy release – a stark contrast to the laughter and lighthearted energy in the green room as the band settles down for our interview. Vocalist Keaton Pierce has previously mentioned that the album was written during a rather difficult time in his life, but as he sits with his friends backstage, gearing up for their second show in Denver this year, he’s all smiles. And really, it’s not hard to imagine why Pierce seems to be in a much better place than when Nerve Endings was created. He’s surrounded by friends, supported by his peers, and riding the success from Too Close to Touch’s March release.
As we talk, it becomes apparent that Too Close to Touch are, as cliche as it sounds, a very genuine group of people. Though the band is still running on the residual excitement from the night before, joking with I The Mighty vocalist Brent Walsh (who ended up sitting in on our interview) about the eating competition, it’s like a flip of a switch once we start talking about their music and the emotion behind it. They take themselves and their careers seriously, but not to the point where they won’t laugh at puns about their own band name or song titles. They get off topic from time to time, laughing among one another about an inside joke, but in the end, things always come back to the music; the reason why they’re currently out on the road with some of their best friends and favorite bands.
The Prelude Press: So, Nerve Endings has been out for nearly a year now and you’re currently on your second tour with I The Mighty this year – what has been the highlight of 2015 so far?
Keaton Pierce [Vocals]: Touring with I The Mighty.
Brent Walsh [I The Mighty]: You’re only saying that because I’m in the room.
Travis Moore [Bass]: Well they are kind of responsible for everything we do. Their record was kind of the driving point for us to check out Erik [Ron], so yeah.
Keaton: We’re the biggest I The Mighty fans and they never believe us.
Travis: I was literally just in the other room singing “Four Letter Words” with them and Chris [Hinkley] is like, “You hate our music!” and I was like, “If I hated your music, then my entire band would not know every word to every song you have.” But I actually say the highlight would definitely be last night.
Mason Marble [Guitar]: Dude, the camaraderie was real. Even though we were being super competitive, the underlying camaraderie was super uplifting. It was just shit talking, but I’ve never felt so close to everyone together.
Travis: It’s so funny that we’re sitting over there dying and they’re all “Yes! This is the best night ever!” [laughs]
Keaton: For those of you don’t know, we had an eating challenge between us three bands last night.
Thomas Kidd [Guitar]: And if you didn’t vote Team Too Close, you lost.
You’ve talked before about how Nerve Endings was written during a pretty difficult time in your life. Now that it’s been out for almost a year, how have things changed since then?
Keaton: I’m definitely in a much happier place [laughs]. No, I’m totally glad I did it because I think when the time comes for us to do record two, I’ll kind of still be able to play off of some of the concepts and ideals and it’ll be interesting to go off of a “that was then, this is now” type of thing. My mindset has totally changed, but I think the emotional release that came with recording the album and then just hearing it and still replaying the songs every night and kind of reliving the emotions that came with writing those songs, it has definitely helped me mature as a person. I don’t regret for a second that I did it, and I’m still glad that the whole idea behind it was to be as brutally honest as possible, not only to help me with the release that came through the songs, but I also wanted to be an open book to anyone else that heard it.
I did it to have the response of kids coming up after shows or messaging us on Facebook or Twitter. The exact thing I was going for was, I’ll bear all with you and in return, you can feel comfortable and bear all with me. And I have seen that response on our tours and I think that kind of helps with creating more lifelong fans, because it’s something they can always connect to. And then, when they feel comfortable not only listening to the songs, but also talking to the people who wrote the songs, that’s an experience that they can take with them after the show, and it will keep them coming back. I feel like it lays a foundation down for a really honest relationship between us and our fans.
Have you had any cool moments with fans after shows?
Mason: Every fan. Every friend we get to make is just super humbling.
Keaton: I think the biggest thing is tattoos and stuff. Anything that people spend time on. Like, someone is getting that permanently on their bodies for the rest of their life.
Thomas: We’re way too young of a band to deserve that.
Kenny Downey [Drums]: But keep doing it. Don’t stop.
Now that you have grown and changed a little bit, when you’re playing those songs, is it ever difficult to open yourself up again and revisit how you felt back then at all?
Keaton: No, not at all. If anything, I know I speak for everyone else too, when you feel the emotions live from those songs, it only positively drives your performance. The worst thing that will happen is I’ll just get more into it, whether it’s moving more or having to take a moment to myself to just close my eyes and kind of breathe. It never hampers it. If anything it provides more of an adrenaline rush because it helps get me in the moment, when I believe the things I’m singing.
Brent: And seeing people singing it back to you. Like when you see someone singing along, and you can tell they’re not just singing along cause it’s fun, but they’re singing along cause they feel it. That makes you feel it all over again.
Keaton: It’s a beautiful thing. That connection is a beautiful thing.
I know you guys just released the video for “Nerve Endings.” What does that song mean to you? Why did you want to do a video for that one in particular?
Mason: It’s one of the band’s favorites for sure. It’s one of the most heavy-hitting. It just really hits you in your stomach. We could have picked any of the songs for a million different reasons, but I think we really wanted to put out something really heavy, for people to connect to.
Kenny: That, and the contrast with our previous release for “Pretty Little Thing.” We really wanted a contrast between two videos, to show two sides.
Mason: We’re not a one trick pony. We like diversity. We hate hearing the same song twice. We can’t write the same song twice. We’re really quick to call out anything that’s too similar or anything like that.
Kenny: We like to keep progressing in some sense.
That’s one thing I noticed just listening to the whole album, too. You’ve got the poppier songs like “Pretty Little Thing” or “Perfect World” and the more serious and harder songs like “Hell To Pay” or “Nerve Endings.”
Mason: And “Until I Collapse,” which is progressive. It’s heavy in a different way.
Kenny: And “The Air In Me.” Those songs kind of go hand in hand.
Keaton: Playing off of what they’re saying, when you listen to “Perfect World” and “Pretty Little Thing,” – when people look up a band and they see a music video, they’re going to listen to that or watch that over just clicking on a random song. When you’re first starting off as a band, you kind of have to put something out for people that still represents your musicianship, but at the same time, might be a tool to help reel people in to where they can see the other real side of you. I know personally, with songs like “Nerve Endings” and “Hell To Pay,” they’re a little bit darker – I wouldn’t say more emotional – but they’re angsty. It’s an angry, desperate side that people needed to experience, too.
Thomas: In contrast to “Pretty Little Thing,” which references a girlfriend relationship or something like that, “Nerve Endings” is very personal. It’s got the personal storyline that I feel, overall, anyone can relate to. So, rather than having it in one very finite context, in any situation, you can relate to those lyrics.
Keaton, going back to what you said about the track being angsty, the part where you’re screaming in the second verse, you can really feel the emotion there.
Keaton: Thank you! It’s really cool cause when Brent paid a visit to the studio – I think that was the first time I ever met him – I was in the middle of tracking that, and he just walked into the control room and just sat down and was like, “Hey man.” And I was like, “Oh shit, I gotta do a good take now.”
Brent: Erik turned the talkback off so that I could talk about you. [laughs] And I asked, “So how’s he doing?” And Erik’s like, “Dude, he’s fuckin’ good.” And I said, “Cool, let’s hear a take!” And then Erik turned around after the take and I was like, “He’s fuckin’ good.” I was impressed.
Mason: I think what I like about the “Nerve Endings” video too, was the other two were pretty performance-based, and a little bit of aesthetic symbolism. The “Nerve Endings” video was mostly symbolic. It’s mostly cinematic, and I think that’s something else that we wanted to do. We wanted to put out a video that was not so much about us as much as it was about the idea.
Like the insomnia bottle and the balloons.
Mason: Yeah. It was all premeditated and we spent hours and hours thinking of cool symbolic things that would hit home with us and the people who listen to our music.
Keaton: Personally, I am tenfold more of a fan of videos like that. I feel like you spend less time worrying about, “How do I look in this shot? I gotta make sure I look like this.” You feel that emotion and it helps it come out through your performance more naturally. I hadn’t slept in like a day and a half when we did that video, which I guess helped with the whole looking tired thing, but it was so easy to just kind of push through it and step into a different world. Same thing with these guys, when we were recording. Their takes were so quick. They’d do their takes and Brad [Golowin] would be like, “Well shit! Alright!”
Mason: We knew what to expect with Brad. Brad’s our director and he’s a brilliant, beautiful man, and he has a killer mustache and a funny hat. And he’s one of my favorite people ever.
Kenny: He’s done our last two videos. And he was actually super adamant about doing this video with us as well. This was his pick.
Mason: And that made us super excited to work with him. You want to work with people who are excited with you. I remember all of us watching the video for the first time and just being like, “Damn.”
Travis: That was the day we left for this tour, too.
Keaton: Even the order he shot things in – he’d do performance, and then he’d take a couple of hours and take the actors and get them in there, and it was weird watching him shoot it in the order that he did.
Kenny: We did not think it was going to turn out the way it did, but we are super happy with it.
As a fan, I love videos like that. I think about My Chemical Romance, because their videos were always so cinematic. It’s cool to watch bands in a room play their instruments, but it’s cooler when you watch a video and you’re like, “Oh, I get it now. That’s what that song’s about.”
Kenny: Yeah, you can actually tell the story behind the song.
You guys already touched on it a little bit, but how would you want the album as a whole to impact your listeners?
Keaton: I think just endless positivity. There’s a lot of dark elements in it and it’s about the light at the end of the tunnel.
Kenny: It’s about overcoming those dark elements. It’s to show people that no matter what, everyone has been through something. You can express it through an art like we do, or find your own way to get out of something, but never give up on doing what you love to do.
Travis: You’re not the only person who’s going through this kind of stuff.
Mason: The record in some parts can seem like a little hopeless, if you listen to some things out of context, but I think the underlying factor is that you can do it.
Keaton: I’m really happy with our decision to put “Until I Collapse” at the end of the album. Hands Like Houses actually helped out and did all of the gang vocals in our album. Like in “Until I Collapse,” and the chanting in “Someday.”
Thomas: It’s all us and them Australian boys.
Kenny: Listen closely and you can hear and accent or two.
Keaton: The way the album is, though, “Until I Collapse” makes it come full circle, for me personally. The lyric is kind of a then and now thing. It’s, “And what kills me/Is how could you forget me?/I stayed right where you left me/But open wounds can’t heal when you’re still tearing them apart.” That’s kind of a darker connotation. And then, “What fills me/Is hope to find what’s missing/And I refuse to quit/Til I’ve rebuilt another heart.” So it kind of ends on a positive note.
Kenny: It summarizes and brings closure to our record.
Mason: It’s all about the big picture. It’s much more broad than just a record. It about your lives and our lives.
Keaton: It’s a story. Even though it’s not necessarily in any chronological order, the entire record is a story of real events. Every song is written about a real thing that has happened. There is no way that you can really put those things in order, because you have to dive a little deeper into concepts, but it is really cool that we could end on a note like that.
Kenny: It just worked out, too. It’s cool when it works out and you don’t have to plan it, it just comes naturally.
Thomas: I remember when we were writing that song, we didn’t have any intention for it to be a closer or anything, we were just writing it, and it happened to be one of the songs that translated from our practice writing to pre-production in the studio. And then Erik just kind of had the idea to make the ending really really big, and we started layering and layering and doing group vocals, and it ended up being this huge outro. It doesn’t sound like it fits anywhere else in the record but the end. It just takes all of the smaller, subtle elements throughout the record and kind of collapses them into one, no pun intended. It does summarize the record very well, I believe, and I’m really proud that it’s the closing track.
As far as the future goes, do you have any plans to continue off of that theme, or are you just going with the flow?
Kenny: We are very go with the flow. When the time comes to write, we will write based off of the experiences that we have at that moment or our past. Not to quote Hands Like Houses, but ride the vibe, I guess. It’s very situational with us. We write everything together, so we’re usually all in the same room or very close when we write songs. Whenever we write, it can be effected by something as simple as how one person is feeling that day.
Mason: We let things happen very naturally. We try not to force anything. I feel like a listener can tell when someone is really fabricated.
Keaton: It displays through your performance.
Kenny: It’s a lot more real if you just let it come out of you. That’s what art is, anyways. You’re supposed to feel something and just put it onto paper or in music.
Keaton: A lot of the times, I’ll write lyrics, but I’ll wait. I’ll sit in the control room with Erik while these guys pre-pro things out and catch a vibe or emotion, based off of the music they’re writing, and then I can decide, “Alright, this is what this needs to be about,” or “This is where I need to use these words.” But I will say that whenever the time for record two comes, it will be just as brutally honest lyrically as record one was, because that’s an ideal that I want to carry. That’s an impact that I want to continue to make. I’m lucky enough to be able to use words.
The way I look at a song is like, each song is three minutes or four minutes of someone’s complete, undivided attention where they can listen to what you say. I’ve never been a big fan of bullshit. Why do that, when you have such a big opportunity to impact somebody? So yeah, record two will be just as honest, if not more. You never know, maybe I’ll open up more about the things that I’ve gone through. We don’t really know, we’ve just gotta wait until the time comes.
I love asking this question because I enjoy the conversation that it opens up and it the responses that it gets. So If you could change anything to better the music scene, what would you change and why?
Thomas: Personally, I’d probably say the local side of things. It seems like every local scene in every city we go to, to one degree or another, is just shot. Of all the different cities that I’ve lived in – I’ve lived in two different cities in Arkansas, I’ve lived in Arizona, I’ve lived in Virginia and I’ve lived in Kentucky – every single one of those cities had just the worst, not doing anything local scene. And I don’t know if it was because of lack of venues or lack drive, or what it is, but it actually took us leaving our local scene and just pushing for it and trying somewhere else, in California – which is thousands of miles away from our hometown – to make it happen.
Travis: I’d say camaraderie. Just the butting heads of having to fight every single band for attention.
Mason: There’s a theme of fabricated entitlement. I remember years ago when we were going to these shows, everyone kind of had the same heart, and then as that sort of progressed, it started becoming pretentious and judgey.
Keaton: I think the growth of social media has been like a double edged sword, too. On one edge, it has provided bands the means and outlets for people across the nation to hear your music, whereas before, it took you going out there, and it wasn’t as easy to do that. So maybe a band in one city may have a bigger social media following than another band does. But immediately going off of the entitlement, they feel like, even though their music might not be as good, that they’re better.
Kenny: It’s all about putting on a big front. It’s all about saying you’re a big band and building up your name, and then being like, “Well, by the time we’re really big, maybe we’ll be able to write that song.” It’s all backwards. They put on this facade like, “I’m this big band,” instead of just trying to become that big band by writing good music. Being in a band, at the end of the day, if you can’t play your instrument to the best of your ability, and if you’re not striving to do that every day, then nothing else matters.
Mason: Kentucky is probably our worst drawing state. We didn’t do things like that, so we couldn’t get shows.
Kenny: We spent all of our money on recording our music and not going on tours across the country just to say that we did tours and stuff like that, like other bands did just to make kids in Kentucky think that they’re a big deal, because they headlined this tour when really they were just going out there and playing for no one and not writing music.
Mason: We spent so much more time just dissecting our music and just taking note of patterns and how music is progressing in a popular sense and trying to put our own personal spin on it than actually playing local shows. And we got a lot of hate for it, cause when we would play, we would try to be fresh, and we wouldn’t suck up to anyone.
Kenny: We wouldn’t fall into any of the day to day bullshit. Everyone was fake with everyone and trying to make friends, and we didn’t try to be the cool kids.
Mason: We were just trying to create art. We weren’t trying to be a face.
Kenny: Everything we do is natural. We’re not big on doing things and having to struggle through them all the time. If it’s natural and it feels right, everything we do is based on feeling. If you go to a show and you have to put on a facade that you’re something that you’re not, then what’s the point?
Mason: I don’t want anyone listening to our music for the wrong reasons anyway. We should create a following out of the overflow of our art.
Keaton: Those are bands that will stick.
Mason: Yeah. If you agree with what we say and how we portray it, then naturally, you’ll want to listen to us and want to know us.
To bring things to an end, do you have any big plans for 2016?
Keaton: Tons. And they’re all super secret.
Brent: I know their big plans
Travis: And we know their big plans.
Mason: We’re all very mutually stoked for each other.
Travis: Really, it’s just gonna be another six I The Mighty and Too Close tours.
Keaton: On a final note, touching on everything we’ve said, that’s why we love touring with I The Mighty and Hands Like Houses, too. They’re bands that have similar ideals and that’s why we all click. We all respect each other’s music.